First meeting between Moon and Yoon called off last minute
A first meeting between President Moon Jae-in and President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol was called off last minute Wednesday because preparatory discussions have not yet been completed, according to both sides.
Moon and Yoon had been scheduled to have a one-on-one luncheon meeting at noon at the Blue House, without any aides accompanying them, which would have reunited the president with his former prosecutor general following his election victory last week. The meeting was announced jointly the previous day, and was expected to be a chance for the two to have "candid" talks to help ensure a smooth transition process between presidencies and discuss key issues such as North Korea and Covid-19 recovery.
However, the two sides canceled it just four hours before the scheduled meeting.
It is unprecedented for such a planned meeting between the incumbent president and the president-elect to be canceled so abruptly.
Blue House spokesperson Park Kyung-mee said in a statement, "As working-level consultations have not been completed for the planned meeting between President Moon and President-elect Yoon, we decided to reschedule the meeting."
Kim Eun-hye, Yoon's spokesperson, echoed a similar message that "working-level consultations have not been completed" and that the two sides plan to continue such discussions in a briefing at the People Power Party's (PPP) headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul.
However, further details were not revealed.
"We cannot disclose the reason for the postponement of today's schedule due to an agreement by both sides," said Kim.
Lee Cheol-hee, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, and Chang Je-won, Yoon's chief of staff, met Tuesday to set the agenda for the meeting. It appears that differences were not narrowed down.
The two sides could have collided over issues such as presidential pardons or personnel appointments at public institutions, heavy topics for a first meeting.
Yoon had been expected to request Moon for a special pardon for former President Lee Myung-bak.
His spokesperson Kim made clear the previous day that Yoon "has long thought of requesting a pardon for former President Lee Myung-bak," adding that the meeting with Moon is hoped to "serve as a chance for national unity and reconciliation."
Lee has been serving a 17-year sentence for embezzlement and bribery since 2018.
Yoon has also pushed for his team to have a say in personnel appointments at public institutions.
Blue House officials have stressed that it is the president's right to make personnel appointments for any vacant posts until his term ends on May 9.
The terms of some key public posts, such as that of Bank of Korea Gov. Lee Ju-yeol, are to end later this month.
Likewise, the Blue House showed discomfort at Yoon's plans to abolish the office of the presidential senior secretary for civil affairs, which he claims has been used to conduct secret probes into political opponents and ordinary people.
Moon congratulated Yoon over his election victory over phone a day after the election. It is unclear when their meeting will be rescheduled.
Instead of a meeting with Moon at noon, Yoon had a kimchi stew lunch with his transition team leaders including its chairman Ahn Cheol-soo, head of the People's Party, near the president-elect's office in Tongui-dong in Jongno District, central Seoul.
Yoon also made seven special adviser appointments Wednesday.
Kang Seog-hoon, a professor of economics at Sungshin Women's University, and Kim Hyun-sook, an economics professor at Soongsil University, were appointed as special advisers for policy. They both had served under the Park Geun-hye administration: Kang as a senior presidential secretary for economic affairs and Kim as a senior presidential secretary for employment and welfare.
They worked closely with Yoon during his campaign and have provided in-depth policy assistance in economic, social and welfare issues, according to spokesperson Kim Eun-hye.
Jang Sung-min, head of the World and the Northeast Asia Peace Forum and a former lawmaker who competed with Yoon in the PPP's presidential primaries, was named special adviser for state affairs. Jang served in the Kim Dae-jung administration as chief of the state affairs planning and monitoring office.
Kim pointed out that Jang had been highly critical of Yoon during the PPP's primary race to the point that he even got a warning from the party. But she said that Yoon had asked Jang "to tell him the bitter truth" and communicated with him throughout his campaign and "listened to unfiltered advice from him."
Other special adviser appointments included former Industry Minister Yoon Jin-shik, former Hankyong National University Chancellor Yim Tae-hee, former Science Minister Kim Yong-hwan and former vice president of the JoongAng Ilbo, Park Bo-gyun.
Yoon decided to send special envoys to the United States and the European Union (EU) next month, before he takes office in May, according to presidential transition team officials Tuesday.
PPP Rep. Park Jin, a fourth-term lawmaker with experience in diplomacy and close relations with the U.S. Congress, is expected to lead the delegation to the United States. Park met with U.S. President Joe Biden, then a Delaware senator, in a visit to Washington in 2008.
However, officials said that whether Yoon will also send envoys to close neighbors China, Japan and Russia is undecided.
It has been customary for president-elects to send special envoys to the four major powers — the United States, China, Japan and Russia — before taking office, as was the case for President Moon Jae-in and former President Lee Myung-bak. Former President Park Geun-hye sent special envoys to the United States and China before taking office.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]